Kimberly Blaeser, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015–2016, lives in Lyons Township (midway between Burlington and Lake Geneva), Wisconsin. Drawing on literal observation and the power of metaphor, Blaeser’s poems create complex harmonies between the vibrant natural world and the resonant human imagination.
The author of three acclaimed poetry collections—Absentee Indians and Other Poems, Apprenticed to Justice, and Trailing You—Blaeser has seen her work earn many and various recognitions, nationally and internationally. Reviewing the many “moments of uncanny epiphany” in her poems, critic Tom Gannon describes Blaeser as a “brilliant naturist.” Describing Absentee Indians and Other Poems, award winning poet and activist, Joy Harjo, writes “[t]hese poems are small sure lights in the darkness—poems to lead us home.” And National Book Award winner, Sherman Alexie, calls Apprenticed to Justice “a gorgeous book.” In selecting Blaeser, the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission praised her passion for the arts and her ability to reach broad audiences through poems that explore her Native culture, poems of place and community, poems of witness, family poems, poems centered in women’s experience, and poems with a sly sense of humor.
Of Anishinaabe ancestry and a native of White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, Blaeser appreciates the opportunity to live with her family in the woods and wetlands of rural Wisconsin. Blaeser works as Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she teaches Creative Writing, Native American Literature, and American Nature Writing. When she isn’t busy writing, teaching, transporting her daughter to sporting events, or tracking her son’s college career, Blaeser’s interests include wilderness expeditions and wildlife and nature photography. Her current creative project features “Picto-poems” and brings her poetry together with nature and wildlife photography to explore intersecting ideas about Native place, nature, preservation, and spiritual sustenance.
Blaeser’s work has reached a large audience on the regional and national level, but has also earned international recognition. Her poems have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Norwegian, Indonesian, and Anishinaabemowin. Blaeser has performed her poetry around the globe, having given readings of creative work at over two hundred different venues in a dozen different countries, including performances at the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia and in a Fire Ceremony at the Borderlands Museum Grounds in arctic Norway.
Blaeser is active in service to literature, the arts, and social justice. She currently serves on the editorial board for the American Indian Lives series of the University of Nebraska Press, and for the Native American Series of Michigan State University Press. She has served on the advisory board for the Sequoyah Research Center and Native American Press Archives, on the Poetry Fellowship Panel for the National Endowment of the Arts, and has been a member of the Native American Alumni Board for the University of Notre Dame. Most recently, Blaeser initiated the Milwaukee Native American Literary Cooperative which helped to bring 75 Native American writers to Milwaukee for the 20th Anniversary Returning the Gift Festival of Native Writers and Storytellers in 2012 and continues to sponsor events each year.
Comments on Selection as Wisconsin Poet Laureate & Plans for Project(s):
Speaking about her selection as Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Blaeser called it “a wonderful honor and an opportunity.” She explains, “through conferences, publications, reading events, exhibits, festivals, and the like, I have had many opportunities to meet and work with Wisconsin communities. I always find the experiences exhilarating and the poetry of our state continually astonishes me. To be selected as Wisconsin’s ambassador for poetry is truly a gift.”
Speaking about the role of poetry in public life, Blaeser says: “sometime in the history of this country, poetry got a bad rap. Those who love poetry, but especially those who read or pen poetry in private, need permission and encouragement to be the shining poetry nerds they may long to be! I am excited to suit up and become our state’s ‘muse’ for the next two years.”
As Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate, Blaeser hopes to “celebrate the state’s rich resources in poetry and put poetry to work in Wisconsin.” Blaeser has plans for a monthly radio program already in the works. There she will feature Wisconsin poets and poetry events. She would also like to bring poetry into more public spaces and events—to unusual places like the Horicon bird festival, to baseball games, flower shows, and sushi bars. Indeed, Blaeser is brimming with ideas including one to highlight recitation using social media (think ice-bucket challenge, with a twist). On a more practical level, she would like to draw upon her past experience in editing anthologies, and work to bring the poetry of Wisconsin writers to press for Wisconsin readers.